Background: Neurofibromatosis type 1 is one of the most common autosomal dominant disorders, affecting about 1:3,500 individuals. NF1 exon 7 displays weakly defined exon-intron boundaries, and is particularly prone to missplicing. Methods: In this study we investigated the expression of exon 7 transcripts using bioinformatic identification of splicing regulatory sequences, and functional minigene analysis of four sequence changes [c.910C>T (R304X), c.945G>A/c.946C>A (Q315Q/L316M), c.1005T>C (N335N)] identified in exon 7 of three different NF1 patients. Results: Our results detected the presence of three exonic splicing enhancers (ESEs) and one putative exonic splicing silencer (ESS) element. The wild type minigene assay resulted in three alternative isoforms, including a transcript lacking NF1 exon 7 (NF1ΔE7). Both the wild type and the mutated constructs shared NF1ΔE7 in addition to the complete messenger, but displayed a different ratio between the two transcripts. In the presence of R304X and Q315Q/L316M mutations, the relative proportion between the different isoforms is shifted toward the expression of NF1ΔE7, while in the presence of N335N variant, the NF1ΔE7 expression is abolished. Conclusion: In conclusion, it appears mandatory to investigate the role of each nucleotide change within the NF1 coding sequence, since a significant proportion of NF1 exon 7 mutations affects pre-mRNA splicing, by disrupting exonic splicing motifs and modifying the delicate balance between aberrantly and correctly spliced transcripts.
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